Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 2677–2683 | Cite as

Temporal variation of nitrogen balance within constructed wetlands treating slightly polluted water using a stable nitrogen isotope experiment

  • Wanguang Zhang
  • Qiongye Lei
  • Zhengkui LiEmail author
  • Huayang Han
Research Article


Slightly polluted water has become one of the main sources of nitrogen contaminants in recent years, for which constructed wetlands (CW) is a typical and efficient treatment. However, the knowledge about contribution of individual nitrogen removal pathways and nitrogen balance in constructed wetlands is still limited. In this study, a stable-isotope-addition experiment was performed in laboratory-scale constructed wetlands treating slightly polluted water to determine quantitative contribution of different pathways and temporal variation of nitrogen balance using Na15NO3 as tracer. Microbial conversion and substrate retention were found to be the dominant pathways in nitrogen removal contributing 24.4–79.9 and 8.9–70.7 %, respectively, while plant contributed only 4.6–11.1 % through direct assimilation but promoted the efficiency of other pathways. In addition, microbial conversion became the major way to remove N whereas nitrogen retained in substrate at first was gradually released to be utilized by microbes and plants over time. The findings indicated that N2 emission representing microbial conversion was not only the major but also permanent nitrogen removal process, thus keeping a high efficiency of microbial conversion is important for stable and efficient nitrogen removal in constructed wetlands.


Constructed wetlands Stable isotope Nitrogen balance Temporal variation N2 and N2O emission Elodea nuttallii and Iris sibirica 



We would like to sincerely thank Prof. Jinbo Zhang and his team for providing valuable advices and help on 15N abundance analysis. This study was financially supported by research projects of the Major State Water Pollution Control and Treatment Technique Programs of China (No. 2012ZX07101006 and No. 2013ZX07101014-001).

Compliance with ethical standards

We confirm that all the data are original and this manuscript has not been published elsewhere and is not under consideration for publication anywhere else. All authors have read the manuscript and accept responsibility for this manuscript. Its publication has been approved by all authors.

We understand that the corresponding author is the sole contact for the editorial process (including editorial manager and direct communications with the office). He is responsible for communicating with the other authors about progress, submissions of revisions, and final approval of proofs. We confirm that we have provided a current, correct email address which is accessible by the corresponding author and which has been configured to accept an email from

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wanguang Zhang
    • 1
  • Qiongye Lei
    • 1
  • Zhengkui Li
    • 1
    Email author
  • Huayang Han
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Pollutant Control and Resources Reuse, School of the EnvironmentNanjing UniversityNanjingPeople’s Republic of China

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